For Abrigo’s Andres Tapia, flair for floral design, composition translates easily to skills needed to craft AML programs, balance risks, resources, results

The Skinny:

  • While colleagues might know Andres Tapia as being an artist when it comes to designing fincrime compliance programs, a challenge that requires balancing a cornucopia of precarious variables, in college he was known for his penchnat for agricultrual aesthetics.
  • But that duality – the ability to combine various seemingly disparate elements together and weave them into a functional, cohesive whole – has served him well over the past 17 years in the field of financial crime, leading to his current position as Senior Manager of Consulting at Abrigo, a compliance technology company focusing on community banks.
  • Tapia has also taken on some of the more arcane, technical and challenging parts of AML programs in the form of tuning and tweaking transaction monitoring systems, cajoling core banking systems and ensuring an unbroken continuum between both platforms.   
  • At the core, however, of being a respected professional in any given field is personal growth and realizing that while so much can seem out of your control, there is one thing that is governed by choice: attitude – a conceit that when employed has life-changing potential, he said.

By Brian Monroe
bmonroe@acfcs.org
November 9, 2020 

Andres Tapia will be the first to admit that when you meet him, a self-proclaimed “man’s man” who loves pumping iron, barbequing, football and NASCAR – basically everything the Southeast has to offer, you might not immediately think: frilly floral arrangements and agricultural artistry.

But that’s where you would be wrong.

The burly and square-jawed Florence, Ala.-resident learned that he had a softer side and an eye for verdant variations by accident – a duality that has served him well over the past 17 years in the field of financial crime, leading to his current position as Senior Manager of Consulting at Abrigo, a compliance technology company focusing on community banks.

On a lark in college, and because it helped fill a tight scholarly shedule spot, Tapia took a course in floral design.

Ironically, he not only didn’t wilt with his floral formations, he blossomed. So much so, in fact, he snared a scholarhship for the aesethetics of his arrangements.

But what is at the heart of floral design?

It is defined as the “art of using plant materials and flowers to create an eye-catching and balanced composition or display,” according to Wikipedia, with evidence of such practices going all the way back to ancient Egypt – a group known for being pretty good at building.

When it comes to the concepts of patience, planting seeds, growth, building up teams focused on effectiveness, balancing risks and resources and creating something with both form and function that passes inspection from rigorous reviewers in a very stressful environment, there are many parallels to the field of anti-money laundering (AML).

Tapia has overseen counter-crime teams and worked with community banks ranging in asset size from $1 billion to large regional banks of up to $125 billion in assets, crafting controls tied to retail banking, private banking, fraud, security, and BSA/AML compliance.

Prior to joining Abrigo, he managed multiple groups of compliance analysts and investigators at a financial institution along the US-Mexico border.

Tapia has also taken on some of the more arcane, technical and challenging parts of AML programs in the form of tuning and tweaking transaction monitoring systems, cajoling core banking systems and ensuring an unbroken continuum between both platforms.   

During this time, he gained experience with the U.S. banking sector’s most powerful and nitpicky regulator, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), consent orders, lookback projects, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, High Intensity Financial Crime Areas, and “creating and motivating efficient teams,” he told ACFCS.  

He is also passionate about sharing the knowledge he has gained to help others.

In recent months, Tapia has offered insight in webinars on a potpouri of topics, including fraud, AML staffing, crypto, cannabis and more.

But capturing knowledge is only one aspect needed to rise in the field of financial crime.

“There are several attributes that make individuals successful in my opinion,” Tapia said. “The most important attributes to me are effective communication, an aptitude for learning and a humility to realize that you don’t know everything.”

Part and parcel of that effort is helping the next generation of professionals realize the potential they have in themselves.

“Helping young ambitious individuals accomplish their goals and objectives by spending time with them, listening, and providing guidance is tremendously rewarding as well,” Tapia said.

“Paying forward what others have done is something we all should be willing to do,” he added. “Very few people can achieve what they are capable of on their own, undoubtedly other people in our lives supported or guided us in our journey.”

At the core, however, of being a respected professional in any given field is personal growth and realizing that while so much can seem out of your control, there is one thing that is governed by choice: attitude – a conceit that when employed has life-changing potential.

“The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day,” he said, echoing the sentiments of noted theologian Charles Swindoll. “We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.”

The begs the question: what can we do?

“The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Tapia was kind enough to share some of his insight on how he broke in the field and rose to key leadership positions and the infectious power of positivity, a bridge to allow personal and professional relationships to take root and harvest success, in our latest ACFCS Member Spotlight. 

Who inspires you?

My father-in-law is a missionary preacher. He has helped thousands of people through his outreach and work. He truly loves what he does which shows. His initiatives will continue to have an impact on generations of individuals globally. He is also a terrific role model for my kiddos and the community at large.

My observations are that because he loves what he does, his tasks do not seem like work to him.

His positive attitude and ability to connect have allowed him to build long lasting relationships that have afforded him the ability to maximize the opportunity of his mission work. He is a true inspiration to me and many others.

What is one thing - industry-related or not - that you learned in the past month?

I recently watched “The Social Dilemma,” which was both fascinating and disturbing.

What fascinated me is how much psychology played a role in engineering social media platforms. It was also troubling learning about some of the negative effects/trends that have resulted from the addictive traits of these applications and how that has affected society in regards to depression, anxiety and suicide.

It is amazing how complex and precise these applications have become. However, I think we can and should do more as a society in demanding corporate ethical responsibility. This is now likely something that only regulation will be able to address.

What is something about you that not many people know?

I feel like I am a guy’s guy. I love to hunt, love to exercise, love all the things the South Eastern US has to offer like barbeques, football, and NASCAR. What most people don’t know that might not totally align with my personality is that I was awarded a scholarship for floral design.

In high school I was part of Future Farmers of America (FFA). In order to continue to be part of the organization and show livestock you had to be enrolled in an agriculture class.

I had already taken the other classes and floral design was the only one that would work with my schedule. Part of the class required us to participate in some competitions. I won a couple of those competitions and as a result, received a scholarship.

What do you do in your current role

I lead an amazing team of consultants responsible for calibrating and tuning our monitoring software platform, BAM+, for our customers.

In addition to assisting our clients with our software, we also help non-software customers with advisory offerings such as BSA/AML risk assessments, policy and procedure reviews, gap analysis, BSA/AML mentoring, training, or interim roles for BSA and AML departments.

In addition to my primary responsibilities, I also function as a subject matter expert at Abrigo for my internal teams such as product, marketing, sales, and support.

What does your career trajectory in financial crime look like?

As the risk management space continues to evolve in financial institutions, into more complex technology-based units, I would like to continue to lead these transformation initiatives through fintech applications.

I am naturally curious and love to learn and help, so this is an ideal space for me to be in. My ideal career trajectory would continue to provide me with exposure opportunities in different functional areas of the fintech organization.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Early on in my career a mentor of mine shared “Attitude” by Charles Swindoll with me.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.

“It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.

“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

And so it is with you…we are “in charge of our Attitudes.”

This concept had a dramatic effect on me. To test this concept out early on in my career, when I would greet someone, I would let them know that I was living the dream. Usually the person that I was talking to would laugh and we would start the conversation on a positive note.

Starting conversations on positive notes has allowed me to build relationships more quickly and in turn I have had more success in my interactions with customers and colleagues.

Because of this, I still tell everyone in my initial greeting that I am living the dream.

What would you say are the most important attributes for someone in your position to succeed?

There are several attributes that make individuals successful in my opinion. The most important attributes to me are effective communication, an aptitude for learning and a humility to realize that you don’t know everything.

Effective communication is critical to be able to convey your message and influence others. The ability and desire to learn allows your sphere of influence to grow and understand other perspectives.

This in turn makes your decisions and actions more effective by incorporating everyone’s objectives into the desired outcomes.

How has (compliance, investigations, etc.) changed and evolved during your career?

When I first started in BSA/AML and fraud, most of the potentially suspicious activity and fraud was related to cash structuring or check kiting.

As we have become more mature as an industry and have developed tools to identify and prevent nascent frauds or illegal activity, the number of typologies has increased dramatically. Bad actors have just adapted.

I think the material differentiator is the availability of information for both good actors and bad ones.

The types of frauds we are seeing now are taking place both domestically and internationally and are impacting larger groups of victims.

Just think about the information available on the dark web such as: identification information, social security numbers, account numbers, credit card and debit card information – the world is getting smaller and scarier.

The availability of this private information to bad actors has caused an increase in scope of the roles for compliance and fraud professionals.

If we also take into consideration the new technology software applications have that includes Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, you either have to train yourselves or acquire that skill and bring it into the department to keep pace with the associated demands.

What do you see as the key financial crime challenges in your role or in the sector overall?

Our industry [must] rapidly adapt to new systemic risks that present themselves.

Case in point are cyber-attacks like ransomware, and COVID-19 pandemic fraud schemes.

Historically, we have been compartmentalized as siloed units, however the new risks presented have forced our subject matter experts to become influencers within our organization to ensure we are communicating effectively with law enforcement.

This forcing function has made us learn and collaborate with other functional units within our financial institutions to continue to combat financial crime and inform law enforcement in a timely fashion.

The ability to keep up with the pace of change while performing our daily task obligates us to rely on others for assistance. Being willing to reinvent yourself to adjust to the directive changes is by far the biggest challenge we face.

What motivated you to become a financial crime compliance professional?

I have always been intrigued with law enforcement. My personality also has drawn me in to this profession.

I enjoy helping folks and taking care of teams and organizations. It has made this a natural fit for me to help safeguard both financial institutions and their customers.

It is tremendously satisfying identifying potentially suspicious activity and being part of a large multiorganizational team that assists our communities and society in general.

Is there anything that surprised you about your current role?

My role has shifted somewhat from an individual contributor role to that of an influencer role.

This shift has allowed me to continue to grow, learn, and flex under different leadership in a challenging environment. The role of an influencer seems like that of a relationship builder, to build goodwill with different internal and external stakeholders.

The surprise to me was how much can be accomplished through influence without direct control by building robust relationships with people.

Not everything we do professionally has to be a zero-sum game – all parties engaged in tasks or challenges can achieve their desired outcomes by winning together.

How did you get your first job in the field and what advice would you give other job seekers to help land their first position?

After 8 years in retail and private banking I was looking to continue to learn and grow in the financial services industry.

The BSA Officer at the bank I was working at was responsible for BSA, Fraud, and facilities for the entire bank. The workload was becoming unmanageable for one person and the financial institution was growing rapidly and needed to dedicate the BSA Officer role to give the BSA program the attention it needed.

In talking to my peer, he really liked the fraud piece but did not like the BSA portion of his role. He posted a role for an assistant role and approached me about it.

After doing some research and thinking about it, I drafted up a more comprehensive role that included the BSA Officer role.

The bank came back and countered and said that they would bring me on in an assistant capacity until I achieved my BSAO certification. They did and I have been in Financial Crimes compliance ever since.

Individuals looking to get into the industry should network as much as possible. There are great trade associations such as ACAMS and CFE groups that can help with information, training, and networking opportunities.

If they already work at a financial institution, they should connect with their BSA Officer or fraud manager to discuss the role and get as much exposure as possible.

Furthermore, they should not be afraid of pitching the ideal role that they would want to these individuals. This is especially true if the existing BSAO or Fraud manager has a desire to transition out of their respective roles or retire in the near future.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

There are two things that are the most rewarding to me: helping customers work through challenges and mentoring other professionals though their journey.

Helping customers address their challenges in creative ways helps not only the financial institution but also helps the individual clients realize that similar approaches can be taken with other personal or professional obstacles.

It is very rewarding helping someone realize their value and potential by collaborating together on a challenging exercise.

Additionally, helping young ambitious individuals accomplish their goals and objectives by spending time with them, listening, and providing guidance is tremendously rewarding as well.

Paying forward what others have done is something we all should be willing to do. Very few people can achieve what they are capable of on their own, undoubtedly other people in our lives supported or guided us in our journey.